New Media = New Opportunities to Sports PR Pros

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Whether the team is winning or losing, sports organizations can successfully push the message and maintain a two-way dialogue with fans via social media, says U of A sports management professor Stephen Dittmore.

 Fayetteville, Ark. – The two-way nature of public relations has never been more essential, according to Stephen W. Dittmore, assistant professor of sports management at the University of Arkansas. In the newly revised edition of Sport Public Relations: Managing Stakeholder Communications, Dittmore and his coauthors highlight how social media and other e-technologies are affecting the field for what Dittmore contends is the better.
“Never before have there been so many opportunities for an organization to proactively push its message,” Dittmore said. “What the Internet and all these social media tools have done is allow organizations to bypass the gatekeeping powers of the traditional media and make their news available for people who have an insatiable appetite for information, especially about their favorite sports teams and athletes.”
Dittmore and coauthors, G. Clayton Stoldt and Scott Branvold, acknowledge the challenges that the new media have imposed on sports organizations, for example the more pressing need for a quick response and comprehensive plan during a communications crisis, or the headaches that can accompany a player or coach “tweeting” out of turn. But Dittmore, who is a veteran sports management professor, an experienced public relations professional and a two-time media assistant for the Olympics, insists that a strong communications strategy is vital regardless, particularly for a sports organization.
“Sports is a unique business in the sense that sports has to deal with fluctuation in product quality — essentially the performance of the team,” Dittmore said. “Their messaging system has to be strong because the product may not always be as desirable.”
The “fleeting allegiances” of fans, Dittmore said, make it essential for sports organizations to establish and maintain long-term relationships with stakeholders. Seeking and listening to stakeholder feedback is the most basic way to do this.
“Communication is a dialogue. It is two-way in that people are going to reply to you; they are going to ‘tweet’ back at you,” Dittmore said. “Facebook enables comments instantaneously. Public relations professionals need to take advantage of these technologies, listen to what the stakeholders are saying and let them feel that they are truly engaged in their organization.”
Dittmore and coauthors argue that a proactive, two-way approach to communication not only improves a sports organization’s ability to manage fluctuating relationships, but also to avoid a team’s poor performance affecting the bottom line. Throughout its text, Sport Public Relations portrays public relations as an essential tool for an organization’s overall management capability and success in being profitable. The new media environment, Dittmore said, only adds to its value.
“The traditional communication model of source-channel-receiver no longer applies,” Dittmore said. “The organization is still the source, but it can be the vehicle or channel of the message, too.”

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